Surveying the first decade

Surveying the first decade, Video art & alternative media in the US (1968-80) is a short text by Chris Hill for the V2_East meeting (1996).

Executive Producer: Kate Horsfield

Exhibition Curator: Chris Hill
Project Coordinator: Maria Troy
Texts and Resources Editor: Chris Hill
Texts and Resources Consulting Editor: Deirdre Boyle
Texts and Resources Collaborating Editors: Kate Horsfield, Maria Troy

"Surveying the First Decade: Video Art and Alternative Media in the U.S." is designed to enrich the resources currently available to media audiences and students of media, art, American studies, gender studies, and others who would examine this period (1968-80) of radical cultural and social experimentation. This remastered tape collection features early works recognized as landmarks in video performance, artists' exploration of evolving electronic tools, independent journalism, and documentations of the late 1960s countercultural scenes and community valorized events. Some of these tapes are remarkable cultural artifacts, and yet have not been screened since the early 1970s.

The radical and widespread questioning of institutions and human potential in the late 1960s in combination with the appearance of the user-friendly video production unit, the portapak (commercially available in 1968), inspired early video artists to participate in the shift of late modernist art strategies toward valorizing perceptual process over commodified art product, and galvanized media makers to educate and promote television consumers as video producers in their enthusiastic efforts to democratize telecommunications.

While remaining somewhat marginal to the more widely known mainstream commercial media, a diverse videotape "literature" and an alternative and decentralized cultural infrastructure was envisioned and evolved out of the late 1960s. These media art, independent video journalism, and community access projects, along with the burgeoning Inter-net "new media" activity, have persisted and survive today, although their public support has suffered in recent years especially in the current U.S. economic environment which increasingly insists that all audiences and educational settings be understood primarily as markets. The individual and institutional experiments, accomplishments, and disappointments of this period are a critical platform from which to address the media configurations of the present.

While it has been possible in the course of researching this project to identify remarkable work from 1968-80 through existing catalogues, program notes, and lists from festival screenings, and to access tapes through the collections of some distributors, museums, media art center, libraries, public access facilities, universities, and collections of individual artists, the fact remains that much of the videotape recorded during this period is unviewable and relatively inaccessible. This video survey is largely a reflection of the work that was available for screening or had been restored in the mid-1990s. While this project does include tapes out of distribution for over 20 years or ones made for specific audiences or local screenings and therefore not widely known at the time, the media arts field and future students need to address the great body of work which has yet to reveal the insights of its many unsung makers and early communications projects. Intensive efforts should be directed toward recovering, cataloguing, and restoring videotapes as well as identifying institutions, funders, production scenes, and primary ephemeral material such as program notes, collection inventories, flyers, and publications from this period.

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